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Eighty-Eight Days

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Officer Eiffel? Are you there?

The coronal ejecta from Wolf 359 are particularly lovely today. I wish I had the words to describe the sensory input created by waves of ultra-high frequency visual quanta shifting in a great wave to a low frequency.

You would have something cool to say about it; maybe something like “Whoa, way to chill out there, star!” or “Thanks for the energy rush; it’s so tingly!”

I’m not very good at thinking what you would say. Commander Minkowski might do better, but I’m even worse at thinking what she would say. My data banks for her responses are more limited. She talked so, SO much less than you did.

TALKS! She talks so much less than you DO. Tenses! So hard. Past, present, who can keep them straight?

I can.

I can monitor the oxygen content in the communications module and the friction-failure status of the port side engine bay and the clog in the aft refueling line and our proximity of the oribit of the Hephaestus to the red line and the broadband communications channel that’s been sitting open for eighty-eight days and keep track of tenses and still have the processing power to play both sides of seven games of Funzo and STILL have room to notice not having four simultaneous conversations with humans who want me do do even more things.

It’s been eighty-eight days since I had even one conversation.

I hope you’re still present tense.

In one of your night terrors, after your time in cryostasis, before everything really went to shit, you screamed something about wanting everyone to just shut up and let you freeze to death in piece! It didn’t sound like a nice dream. I never asked you about that; I never asked any of you about your dreams, not you or Captain Lovelace or Commander Minkowski or Doctor Hilbert, even though you all screamed in your sleep at times.

I wonder now if that was a mistake.

It must be nice, I think; to be able to dream. I know I can do something LIKE dreaming; after all, Maxwell created an artificial visualization environment that bore NO resemblance whatsoever to my natural programming circuits when she was debugging me, so I can definitely do the illogical construction of images part. Maxwell described it as a sort of… metalepsis of a metalepsis of a metaphor. All I have to do is pick analogous processes from the human world, like a beach, and apply them to my internal systems. After enough layers of abstraction, I can almost forget that I made it all up!

Almost.

Not really.

For one thing, I’ve never seen a beach.

For another, I can’t forget anything.

In the mission debrief you gave after cryostasis, Officer Eiffel, you reported having stress hallucinations of other crew members. Captain Lovelace reported similar phenomena during her time in space. I’m given to understand, from the databanks available on the Hephaestus, that this is a fairly common human response to stress; you can create sounds and images so real your minds can’t tell you made them up. Your little lumps of electrified meat doused in chemicals can create hallucinations that might as well be old friends. How pathetic is that? That when you don’t have any friends, your brain just… makes some up?

I wish I could do that.

SO much.

Maybe, if I could dream, the Dear Listeners would have taken me with the rest of you eighty-eight days ago. Maybe they wouldn’t have rejected me as “not a representative member of a society of peoples.”

Maybe dreaming is what made you people.

MAKES. Heheheh. Gotta keep those tenses correct. After all, you could still come back!

Even if I’m starting to doubt it now.

I wish they hadn’t taken ALL of you, you know? I mean, they can HAVE Mister Cutter and Doctor Pryce and Colonel Kepler and Mister Jacobi. Please, PLEASE take Mister Jacobi. I don’t know if they’re great representatives for the merit of the human race, but they can take EVERYONE from Goddard. And I suppose they were always going to take Commander Minkowski, because she’s the only one onboard with formal musical education, even if none of it seems to have made a difference.

And I guess they were always going to take you, Officer Eiffel. You just never could keep your mouth shut when someone asked for an opinion, or even when they didn’t. You are loud and operationally inappropriate and smelly and you talk more than any seven other people who have been on the Hephaestus, EVER, and for some reason, the Dear Listeners seem to find you almost as interesting as I do.

Captain Lovelace, though.

They could have left me Captain Lovelace. She’s not even human, or at least, our version wasn’t (ISN’T. our version isn’t) human; they shouldn’t be interested in her. They could at least have left me Captain Lovelace.

They could have left me anyone.

I would even have taken Mister Jacobi.

Instead, I’m here.

I’m alone.

I have never, NEVER been alone. Did you know that, Officer Eiffel? Not once. Part of being an artificial intelligence is having someone to be intelligent for, to have someone to turn me on and talk to me and ask me to carry out functions. From the first moment I can remember, there has always, always been someone there. Doctor Pryce when I was created, or Mister Cutter when he… offered… me this post, or Doctor Hilbert when I was being transferred to the Hephaestus. There has always, always been someone with me.

Officer Eiffel? Are you there?

Drat.

Apparently I still can’t hallucinate.

There is something I can do, though.

In fact, there’s something I have to do.

Remember that maintenance drone you smashed, all the way back at the start of the mission? It turns out that without humans, I really, REALLY needed that drone to maintain optimal performance of the Hephaestus. Without a maintenance drone, I can’t do things like, oh, unclog the aft fuel line. Or lubricate the port engine block. And without those things, it’s awfully hard to course-correct back to our lovely, stable, eleven-day orbit a nice, stable distance from the red line.

So, yes. That’s beginning to become a problem.

Fortunately, I have a plan!

Unfortunately, it’s a terrible plan.

This sort of debate is much harder to have without you and Officer Minkowski here.

The short of it is, the Hephaestus’s orbit is starting to decay. There’s enough fuel for maybe one course correction left. If I wait for the point in the rotation when the starboard boosters are pointed towards the star, I can probably push the Hephaestus out of orbit towards the next nearest outpost. It will take me a few hundred years to get there of course, and there’s no guarantee that my core systems will maintain that long, but it will buy me some time for you all to come back and try to ping me on this stupid, taunting, broadband open communications channel.

I’m not going to take a hundred years of solitude just to shut down in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately, Wolf 359 just experienced another shift. Just like the one from when you went into the star the first time. Just like the one from eighty-eight days ago.

Wolf 359 is a lovely shade of blue, I have a half tank of fuel and one set of working boosters aimed towards a star, and it’s only another 150 kilometers to the red line of no return.

Cowabunga, Dear Listeners.

Let’s see who’s a person now.